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What Washington is missing in the Iran deal

It may be easy for many in Washington to forget that this agreement—and the years of confrontation that preceded it—has had and will continue to have a direct impact on people in Iran.

Mass demonstration in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
Mass demonstration in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

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Negar Razavi is an anthropologist and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a global fellow at PS21. She tweets @razaraz.

Most reactions in Washington to the historic nuclear agreement (or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) between Iran and the P5+1 have frustratingly ignored how it affects the lives of ordinary Iranians, who have disproportionally paid the price of confrontation with the U.S. but who will also ensure the long-term durability of this agreement.

In the U.S., opponents of the deal conveniently gloss over the role the Iranian people played in electing a pro-deal president, as they frame this agreement as a Chamberlain-esque defeat to the “evil mullahs”. On the other side, supporters downplay any gains this deal will provide the people of Iran as they focus on the robust “invasiveness” of the inspections regime and engage in dispassionate discussions about the implications of the deal for regional allies.

But we in the Iranian-American community who have maintained our connections to contemporary Iran cannot afford to ignore what it means for our families and friends inside the country.   As 1.5 or 2nd generation Iranian-Americans, we have lived the painful history of confrontation between the U.S. and Iran in deeply personal ways. And we have watched tensions between these governments reach frightening new levels over the past decade.

Many of us who regularly travel back to Iran have also had to bear witness to the deteriorating conditions facing ordinary Iranians as a result of expansive international sanctions, growing isolation, and recurring threats of military strikes from abroad. For me personally, it has been very painful to see my family and friends inside Iran struggle with serious financial problems, health concerns exacerbated by the slow importation of needed medicines, and the dramatic increase in violent, poverty-driven crimes in the cities that have left no family untouched.

So while experts and political figures in D.C. politely discuss “centrifuges” and “timelines”, many in the Iranian-American community will think of their grandmothers worried about paying for food and fuel as prices continue to soar. When we hear “snapback sanctions” tossed casually around the Hill, we are reminded of all those talented young Iranians being prevented from connecting to the rest of the world.

Conversely, when Americans question why Iran will continue to comply with this deal, we think of the 18 million people who elected President Rouhani largely on the promise of getting this deal done and ending Iran’s global isolation. We will show them how videos of the millions dancing and celebrating the deal on the streets serve as reminders to Iran’s leaders that they must answer to their people moving forward.

In the end, it may be easy for many in Washington to forget that this agreement—and the years of confrontation that preceded it—has had and will continue to have a direct impact on people in Iran. But those of us with ties to both societies know that the people celebrating this historic deal in Iran do so because they paid the biggest price for it and will subsequently hold their leaders accountable if they fail to deliver what they promised. In turn, we in the U.S. cannot afford to ignore the Iranian people now or marginalize their concerns as we debate this deal.

PS21 is a non-partisan, non-ideological, non-governmental organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

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